Pathological Gambling


The act of wagering money or other valuables on a random event with the hope of winning something else of value. Gambling includes both activities in which the outcome depends solely on chance, such as tossing a coin or rolling a dice, and those in which skill may influence the outcome, such as playing card games or horse races.

Gambling is the world’s most widespread activity, and it occurs everywhere in some form. Some examples of gambling include horse races, slot machines, lotteries, and sports betting. Some forms of gambling require money; others, such as betting on soccer games, do not. Most gambling takes place in casinos and other legal venues, but there is also a substantial amount of illegal gambling.

Throughout history, people have speculated about the future and used money as a way to express their hopes and dreams. However, it is only in the last few decades that researchers have begun to understand how gambling can affect people negatively and cause serious problems. In the 1980s, when research began to show that some gamblers had negative consequences from their gambling, most observers viewed these individuals as “problem gamblers,” and it was only later that it was recognized that these individuals were suffering from an illness called pathological gambling.

Pathological gambling is a behavioral disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It can be a serious problem that has been associated with feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, and depression; it causes difficulties in relationships, work, and school, and it leads to reckless behavior and illegal acts to finance the addiction, such as forgery, embezzlement, and theft.

In the past, many observers compared pathological gambling to substance abuse, but since the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was published in 1994, the American Psychiatric Association has classified pathological gambling as a behavioral disorder. This change reflects the recognition that gambling disorder shares some characteristics with substance abuse and is similar in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, physiology, and treatment.

Counseling can be helpful for people who have a problem with gambling. It can teach them healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and socialize, such as spending time with friends who do not gamble or taking up a new hobby. It can also help family members cope with the stress of dealing with a loved one’s gambling addiction. It is important to remember, though, that only the individual who has a problem with gambling can decide to stop gambling. Medications can help some people control their urges to gamble, and there are also support groups for problem gambling that can provide help and guidance. For example, Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step recovery program that is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. A therapist can help a person struggling with a gambling disorder find a sponsor, someone who has experience remaining free from gambling, and learn how to deal with triggers.